Rep. Gutiérrez released a letter dated August 22, 2016 to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy expressing his concerns about inaction by the EPA with regard to toxic landfills in Puerto Rico. The letter reads in part:
It has been reported to me that nearly two-thirds of the Island’s municipal solid waste landfills are out of compliance with RCRA [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act]. For example, some landfills lack basic engineering requirements, allow giant piles of trash to sit uncovered and unlined, permit the entry of unsorted materials with unknown toxicity levels such as leachate that could enter water systems, and do not control methane gas emissions which left unchecked has caused frequent fires. Furthermore, according to local environmental organizations there are grave concerns that the increase in leachate liquid associated with these toxic landfills may be exacerbating the breeding of mosquitoes that are known vectors of the Zika virus on the Island. Such gross violations of the RCRA require legal action, and the EPA is authorized to take such steps under Section 7003 of RCRA in order to remedy “imminent and substantial endangerment of health or the environment.”
The Congressman goes on to ask for specific updates from the EPA:
Given the urgency of these circumstances, please provide answers to the following questions as soon as possible:
What action is the EPA taking to ensure that all municipal solid waste landfills in Puerto Rico, the U.S. territories and the mainland United States, including my district in Chicago, comply with existing environmental regulations?
What are the standards that the EPA uses to determine whether a landfill has complied with the RCRA? Are these standards different based on whether the landfill is located on the mainland United States or in a U.S. territory?
What are the various enforcement mechanisms that the EPA can utilize, in addition to closure orders, to conduct effective oversight of landfills in the U.S.? Are these enforcement mechanisms different based on whether the landfill is located on the mainland United States or in a U.S. territory?
What is the EPA doing to monitor and address any adverse public health or environmental impacts that result from these noncompliant landfills, including ensuring that the condition of the landfills is not exacerbating the growing Zika epidemic on the Island?
You can view the full press release here.